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To Ask or Not to Ask

Charities across the country are struggling with the decision to fundraise during the coronavirus pandemic. Cancelled events have delivered a tremendous blow to organizations that rely heavily on these activities for income. Confusion about the virus being spread by mail has resulted in annual fund drives being suspended. Staff members who work on grant proposals or major gift cultivation have been laid off. In addition, it doesn’t help that nonprofit news outlets have been delivering conflicting messages. Some articles advise suspending fundraising activities to avoid appearing insensitive while others recommend going full force in order to survive the crisis.

Through my recent CharityChats meetup events (now virtual, of course), I’ve heard of a variety of challenges facing fundraising professionals right now. In addition to the normal barriers and hurdles we deal with on a day to day basis, we have a whole host of new problems: over-generalization, short-sighted thinking, fear of audience backlash, and reluctance to explore creative approaches. The question at the end of the day is: to ask or not to ask?

To help fundraisers sort through these very confusing times, I have developed a few tips that can help with either decision

To Ask

If an organization decides to move forward with fundraising, consider these approaches:

  • Be Sensitive – Recognize the mix of audience to which you are speaking and acknowledge the difficulties that are facing millions of Americans right now.
  • Be Relevant – Clearly identify either the work that your organization is doing to support communities during this time OR the critical work that must continue.
  • Be Transparent – Look at your budgets and let people know what shortfalls you are facing. What is the monetary impact of the cancelled events and the suspended activities? How will this affect your services to the community?

Not to Ask

There are still a number of activities that can have a positive impact on the organization, even when fundraising activities are suspended:

  • Grow the Audience – Focus on engaging new prospects through online activities. Create a white paper or flyer of helpful tips that require an email address to access. Conduct a poll or trivia on social media to attract more followers. Utilize social ads for promotion such as a small $50 investment to a Facebook “lookalike” audience.
  • Solidify Existing Relationships – Keep in touch with supporters to remain top of mind. Conduct a survey of their current experiences. Send thank you notes. Think of ways to show you care.
  • Host Virtual Events – Launch events online such as informative panel discussions, services such as yoga or fitness sessions, virtual tours, or even happy hours or trivia nights.

Along with all of these ideas, utilize volunteers and board members to help spread the word. Provide them with a toolkit and suggested language to post to their social networks and share with friends.

There is no doubt that this is an overwhelming, confusing, and frustrating time. People everywhere are struggling in so many ways to adjust. Things happening now will likely have long-lasting impact, if not change the way we communicate and interact moving forward.

On the bright side, we are getting more creative and innovative through it all. Virtual dance parties, zoom bombs with animals, adopting new hobbies, creative volunteering, and exploring new technology are among the many interesting activities taking place these days. Personally, I have discovered a passion for crosswords!

But through it all, please be sure to take some time to mentally rest and reflect. Walk. Meditate. Cook a nice dinner. Read. Right now, self-care is going to be more important than ever. (Need some help? Check out my seven tips for surviving quarantine and 43 ideas to keep you moving!)

Be well.